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Wage slavery


Wage slavery

19th-century female workers in Lowell, Massachusetts were arguably the first to use the term "wage slave".

Wage slavery refers to a situation where a worker's [6] The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their "species character"[7] not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma and status diminution.[8][9][10]

Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted as early as Cicero in Ancient Rome.[11] With the advent of the industrial revolution, thinkers such as Proudhon and Marx elaborated the comparison between wage labor and slavery in the context of a critique of societal property not intended for active personal use,[12][13] while Luddites emphasized the dehumanization brought about by machines. Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of African American slavery invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North.[14][15] The United States abolished slavery during the Civil War, but labor union activists found the metaphor useful. According to Lawrence Glickman, in the Gilded Age, "References abounded in the labor press, and it is hard to find a speech by a labor leader without the phrase."[16]

The introduction of wage labor in 18th century Britain was met with resistance – giving rise to the principles of workers' self-management or worker cooperatives as possible alternatives to wage labor.[5][19]


  • History 1
    • Similarities of wage work with slavery 1.1
    • Decline in use of term 1.2
  • Treatment in various economic systems 2
    • Capitalism 2.1
    • Communism 2.2
    • Fascism 2.3
  • Opinions on psychological effects 3
    • Self-identity problems and stress 3.1
    • Psychological control 3.2
      • Higher wages 3.2.1
      • Lower wages 3.2.2
      • Lowest wages 3.2.3
  • Workers' self-management 4
    • Labor and government 4.1
    • Influence on environmental degradation 4.2
    • Employment contracts 4.3
  • Schools of economics 5
  • See also 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


Emma Goldman famously denounced wage slavery by saying: "The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves."[21]

The view that working for wages is akin to slavery dates back to the ancient world.[22]

In 1763, the French journalist Simon Linguet published a description of wage slavery:[13]

The slave was precious to his master because of the money he had cost him . . . They were worth at least as much as they could be sold for in the market . . . It is the impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm labourers to till the soil whose fruits they will not eat and our masons to construct buildings in which they will not live . . . It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in order to get from him permission to enrich him . . . what effective gain [has] the suppression of slavery brought [him ?] He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune . . . These men . . . [have] the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need. . . . They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?

The view that wage work has substantial similarities with chattel slavery was actively put forward in the late 18th and 19th centuries by defenders of chattel slavery (most notably in the Southern states of the US), and by opponents of capitalism (who were also critics of chattel slavery).[9][23] Some defenders of slavery, mainly from the Southern slave states argued that Northern workers were "free but in name – the slaves of endless toil," and that their slaves were better off.[24][25] This contention has been partly corroborated by some modern studies that indicate slaves' material conditions in the 19th century were "better than what was typically available to free urban laborers at the time."[26][27] In this period, Henry David Thoreau wrote that "[i]t is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself."[28]

Among abolitionists, both views were prevalent. Some abolitionists in the United States regarded the analogy as spurious.[29] They believed that wage workers were "neither wronged nor oppressed".[30] Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans argued that the condition of wage workers was different from slavery, as laborers were likely to have the opportunity to work for themselves in the future, achieving self-employment.[31] The abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass initially declared, "now I am my own master", upon taking a paying job.[32] But later in life, he concluded to the contrary, "experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other".[33]

African American wage workers picking cotton on a plantation in the South.

Self-employment became less common as the artisan tradition slowly disappeared in the later part of the 19th century.[5] In 1869 The New York Times described the system of wage labor as "a system of slavery as absolute if not as degrading as that which lately prevailed at the South".[31] E. P. Thompson notes that for British workers at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the "gap in status between a 'servant,' a hired wage-laborer subject to the orders and discipline of the master, and an artisan, who might 'come and go' as he pleased, was wide enough for men to shed blood rather than allow themselves to be pushed from one side to the other. And, in the value system of the community, those who resisted degradation were in the right."[17] A "Member of the Builders' Union" in the 1830s argued that the trade unions "will not only strike for less work, and more wages, but will ultimately abolish wages, become their own masters and work for each other; labor and capital will no longer be separate but will be indissolubly joined together in the hands of workmen and work-women."[18] This perspective inspired the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union of 1834 which had the "two-fold purpose of syndicalist unions – the protection of the workers under the existing system and the formation of the nuclei of the future society" when the unions "take over the whole industry of the country."[19] "Research has shown", summarises William Lazonick, "that the 'free-born Englishman' of the eighteenth century – even those who, by force of circumstance, had to submit to agricultural wage labour – tenaciously resisted entry into the capitalist workshop."[20]

The use of the term wage slave by labor organizations may originate from the labor protests of the

  • André Gorz, Critique of Economic Reason and the Wage Slavery, 1989
  • Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery
  • Essay on Societal Slavery
  • How The Miners Were Robbed 1907 anti-capitalist pamphlet by John Wheatley
  • Land and Liberty
  • Photo-story on modern-day slavery in Brazil by photographer Eduardo Martino
  • Special situations in the USA
  • Wage Labour and Capital
  • Working for Wages, Martin Glaberman and Seymour Faber
  • Slavery and the Welfare State by Stephen Pimpare, from A People's History of Poverty in America

External links

  • Bober, Stanley (2007). "Marxian economics: its philosophy, message, and contemporary relevance". In Mathew Forstater; Gary Mongiovi;  
  • Bookchin, Murray (2001). Which Way for the Ecology Movement?. Oakland, CA:  
  • Brendel, Cajo (1971). "Kronstadt: Proletarian Spin-off of the Russian Revolution".  
  • Carsel, Wilfred (1940). "The Slaveholders' Indictment of Northern Wage Slavery".  
  • Chomsky, Noam (1993). Year 501: The Conquest Continues. London:  
  • Chomsky, Noam (2000). Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs. New York, NY:  
  • Chomsky, Noam; C.P. Otero, ed. (2002). Chomsky on Democracy and Education. London & New York, NY:  
  • Chomsky, Noam (2011) [1999].  
  • Clark, John (1983). The Anarchist Moment: Reflections on Culture, Nature and Power. Montreal:  
  • Clark, John (2004) [1992]. "A Social Ecology". In Michael E. Zimmerman et al. Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (4th ed.). London:  
  • De Grand, Alexander J. (2004) [1995]. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: The 'Fascist' Style of Rule (2nd ed.). London & New York, NY:  
  • Douglass, Frederick (2000). Philip S. Foner, Yuval Taylor, ed. Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings. Chicago Review Press.  
  • Ehrenreich, Barbara (2011) [2001]. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (10th anniversary ed.). New York, NY:  
  • Ellerman, David P. (2005). : Retrieving the Debate about Contracts of Alienation with an Application to Today's Employment Contract"Concessio versus Translatio".  
  • Foner, Eric (1998). The Story of American Freedom. New York, NY:  
  • Graeber, David (2011).  
  • Hallgrimsdottir, Helga Kristin; Benoit, Cecilia (2007). "From Wage Slaves to Wage Workers: Cultural Opportunity Structures and the Evolution of the Wage Demands of the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor, 1880–1900".  
  • Hofman Öjermark, May, ed. (2008). "Promoting safe and healthy jobs: The ILO Global Programme on Safety, Health and the Environment (SafeWork)". World of Work (Geneva:  
  • Klein, Martin A. (1986). "Review: Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725 by Richard Hellie".  
  • Laurie, Bruce (1997) [1989]. Artisans into Workers: Labor in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago, IL:  
  • Margo, Robert A.;  
  • Marx, Karl (1969) [1863].  
  • Marx, Karl (1990) [1867].  
  • Metcalf, Alida (2005). Family and Frontier in Colonial Brazil. Austin, TX:  
  • Perlman, Fredy (2002). The Reproduction of Daily Life. Detroit, MI: Black & Red.  
  • Price, Richard H.; Friedland, Daniel S.; Vinokur, Anuram D. (1998). "Job Loss: Hard Times and Eroded Identity". In John H. Harvey. Perspectives on Loss: A Sourcebook. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel. pp. 303–316.  
  • Steuben, John (1950). Strike Strategy. New York, NY: Gaer Associates. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  • Takala, J., ed. (2005). Introductory Report: Decent Work – Safe Work. XVIIth World Congress on Safety and Health at Work. Geneva:  
  • Thye, Shane R.; Lawler, Edward J., eds. (2006). Social Psychology of the Workplace. Advances in Group Processes 23. Oxford:  
  • Weininger, Elliot B. (2002). "Class and Causation in Bourdieu". In Jennifer M. Lehmann. Bringing Capitalism Back For Critique By Social Theory. Current Perspectives in Social Theory 21. Bingley:  


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  43. ^ The highest position slaves ever attained was that of slave minister… A few slaves even rose to be monarchs, such as the slaves who became sultans and founded dynasties in Islām. At a level lower than that of slave ministers were other slaves, such as those in the Roman Empire, the Central Asian Samanid domains, Ch’ing China, and elsewhere, who worked in government offices and administered provinces. … The stereotype that slaves were careless and could only be trusted to do the crudest forms of manual labor was disproved countless times in societies that had different expectations and proper incentives.The sociology of slavery: Slave occupations Encyclopaedia Britannica
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  50. ^ McKay, Iain. B.7.2 Does social mobility make up for class inequality? An Anarchist FAQ: Volume 1
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  91. ^ Chomsky, Noam (September 21, 2007). "A Revolution is Just Below the Surface". 
  92. ^ Hauser 2006.
  93. ^ On Just War Theory at West Point Academy: Hauser's theories "could some day provide foundations for a more substantive theory of just war," expanding on some of the existing legal "codifications of these intuitive judgments" that are regularly disregarded by elite power structures. (min 26–30)
  94. ^ Chomsky, Noam (2004-07-14). "Interview". 
  95. ^ An Anarchist FAQ Section E – What do anarchists think causes ecological problems?
  96. ^ Bookchin 1990, p. 44; Bookchin 2001, pp. 1–20; Clark 1983, p. 114; Clark 2004.
  97. ^ Ellerman 2005, p. 16.
  98. ^ Ellerman 2005, p. 14.
  99. ^ Ellerman 2005, p. 32.
  100. ^ , 21Inalienable Rights and ContractsEllerman, David,
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See also

2. – State-socialists view it as an injustice perpetrated by capitalists and solved by state control of the means of production.

1. – Libertarian Socialism sees it as a lack of workers' self-management in the context of substituting state and capitalist control with political and economic decentralization and confederation.

The two main forms of Socialist economics perceive wage slavery differently:


Austrian economics argues that a person is not "free" unless they can sell their labor, because otherwise that person has no self-ownership and will be owned by a "third party" of individuals.[104]

In the philosophy of mainstream, neoclassical economics, wage labor is seen as the voluntary sale of one's own time and efforts, just like a carpenter would sell a chair, or a farmer would sell wheat. It is considered neither an antagonistic nor abusive relationship, and carries no particular moral implications.[103]

Schools of economics

[I]f A has agreed to work for life for B in exchange for 10,000 grams of gold, he will have to return the proportionate amount of property if he terminates the arrangement and ceases to work."[102]

Others like Murray Rothbard allow for the possibility of debt slavery, asserting that a lifetime labour contract can be broken so long as the slave pays appropriate damages:

The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would.[101]

Some advocates of laissez-faire capitalism, among them philosopher Robert Nozick, address this inconsistency in modern societies, arguing that a consistently libertarian society would allow and regard as valid consensual/non-coercive enslavement contracts, rejecting the notion of inalienable rights.

Since slavery was abolished, human earning power is forbidden by law to be capitalized. A man is not even free to sell himself; he must rent himself at a wage.[100]

In a modern liberal-capitalist society, the employment contract is enforced while the enslavement contract is not; the former being considered valid because of its consensual/non-coercive nature, and the later being considered inherently invalid, consensual or not. The noted economist Paul Samuelson described this discrepancy.

The contractarian argument is unassailable all the time it is accepted that abilities can 'acquire' an external relation to an individual, and can be treated as if they were property. To treat abilities in this manner is also implicitly to accept that the 'exchange' between employer and worker is like any other exchange of material property . . . The answer to the question of how property in the person can be contracted out is that no such procedure is possible. Labour power, capacities or services, cannot be separated from the person of the worker like pieces of property.[99]

Some criticize wage slavery on strictly contractual grounds, e.g. David Ellerman and Carole Pateman, arguing that the employment contract is a legal fiction in that it treats human beings juridically as mere tools or inputs by abdicating responsibility and self-determination, which the critics argue are inalienable. As Ellerman points out, "[t]he employee is legally transformed from being a co-responsible partner to being only an input supplier sharing no legal responsibility for either the input liabilities [costs] or the produced outputs [revenue, profits] of the employer's business."[97] Such contracts are inherently invalid "since the person remain[s] a de facto fully capacitated adult person with only the contractual role of a non-person" as it is impossible to physically transfer self-determination.[98] As Pateman argues:

Employment contracts

Loyola University philosophy professor John Clark and libertarian socialist philosopher Murray Bookchin have criticized the system of wage labor for encouraging environmental destruction, arguing that a self-managed industrial society would better manage the environment. They, like other anarchists,[95] attribute much of the industrial revolution's pollution to the "hierarchical" and "competitive" economic relations accompanying it.[96]

Influence on environmental degradation

In this regard Chomsky has used Bakunin's theories about an "instinct for freedom",[91] the militant history of labor movements, Kropotkin's mutual aid evolutionary principle of survival and Marc Hauser's theories supporting an innate and universal moral faculty,[92] to explain the incompatibility of oppression with certain aspects of human nature.[93][94]

“Modern political theory stresses Madison's belief that "in a just and a free government the rights both of property and of persons ought to be effectually guarded." But in this case too it is useful to look at the doctrine more carefully. There are no rights of property, only rights to property that is, rights of persons with property,..." "[In] representative democracy, as in, say, the United States or Great Britain [...] there is a monopoly of power centralized in the state, and secondly – and critically – [...] the representative democracy is limited to the political sphere and in no serious way encroaches on the economic sphere [...] That is, as long as individuals are compelled to rent themselves on the market to those who are willing to hire them, as long as their role in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion and oppression that make talk of democracy very limited, if even meaningful."[90]

Noam Chomsky has argued that political theory tends to blur the 'elite' function of government:

The American philosopher John Dewey believed that until "industrial feudalism" is replaced by "industrial democracy," politics will be "the shadow cast on society by big business".[88] Thomas Ferguson has postulated in his investment theory of party competition that the undemocratic nature of economic institutions under capitalism causes elections to become occasions when blocs of investors coalesce and compete to control the state.[89]

Labor and government

Some social activists objecting to the [6][19]

Noam Chomsky has written in support of labour movements.

Workers' self-management

This category would include those who "are falling further behind as the global economy recovers, amid rising competition from hordes of new working poor".[87]

Lowest wages

In the early 20th century, "scientific methods of strikebreaking"[85] were devised – employing a variety of tactics that emphasized how strikes undermined "harmony" and "Americanism".[86]

At the same time, employers in the service industry have justified unstable, part-time employment and low wages by playing down the importance of service jobs for the lives of the wage laborers (e.g. just temporary before finding something better, student summer jobs etc.).[83][84]

Job interviews and other data on requirements for lower skilled workers in developed countries – particularly in the growing service sector – indicate that the more workers depend on low wages, and the less skilled or desirable their job is, the more employers screen for workers without better employment options and expect them to feign unremunerative motivation. Such screening and feigning may not only contribute to the positive self-image of the employer as someone granting desirable employment, but also signal wage-dependence by indicating the employee's willingness to feign, which in turn may discourage the dissatisfaction normally associated with job-switching or union activity.[82]

The terms "employee" or "worker" have often been replaced by "associate". This plays up the allegedly voluntary nature of the interaction, while playing down the subordinate status of the wage laborer, as well as the worker-boss class distinction emphasized by labor movements. Billboards, as well as TV, Internet and newspaper advertisements, consistently show low-wage workers with smiles on their faces, appearing happy.[81]

Lower wages

Parecon theory posits a social class "between labor and capital" of higher paid professionals such as "doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and others" who monopolize empowering labor and constitute a class above wage laborers who do mostly "obedient, rote work".[80]

The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorize, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology.[79]

In his book Disciplined Minds, Jeff Schmidt points out that professionals are trusted to run organizations in the interests of their employers. Because employers cannot be on hand to manage every decision, professionals are trained to “ensure that each and every detail of their work favors the right interests–or skewers the disfavored ones” in the absence of overt control:

At the time the Lowell cotton mills were started the caste of the factory girl was the lowest among the employments of women. . . . She was represented as subjected to influences that must destroy her purity and self­respect. In the eyes of her overseer she was but a brute, a slave, to be beaten, pinched and pushed about. It was to overcome this prejudice that such high wages had been offered to women that they might be induced to become mill­girls, in spite of the opprobrium that still clung to this degrading occupation.[78]

Harriet Hanson Robinson in an account of the Lowell Mill Girls wrote that generously high wages were offered to overcome the degrading nature of the work:

In 19th-century discussions of labor relations, it was normally assumed that the threat of starvation forced those without property to work for wages. Proponents of the view that modern forms of employment constitute wage slavery, even when workers appear to have a range of available alternatives, have attributed its perpetuation to a variety of social factors that maintain the hegemony of the employer class.[44][77] These include efforts at manufacturing consent and eliciting false consciousness.

Higher wages

Psychological control

Wage slavery, and the educational system that precedes it "implies power held by the leader. Without power the leader is inept. The possession of power inevitably leads to corruption… in spite of… good intentions … [Leadership means] power of initiative, this sense of responsibility, the self-respect which comes from expressed manhood, is taken from the men, and consolidated in the leader. The sum of their initiative, their responsibility, their self-respect becomes his … [and the] order and system he maintains is based upon the suppression of the men, from being independent thinkers into being 'the men' … In a word, he is compelled to become an autocrat and a foe to democracy." For the "leader", such marginalisation can be beneficial, for a leader "sees no need for any high level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud his actions. Indeed such intelligence from his point of view, by breeding criticism and opposition, is an obstacle and causes confusion."[75] Wage slavery "implies erosion of the human personality… [because] some men submit to the will of others, arousing in these instincts which predispose them to cruelty and indifference in the face of the suffering of their fellows."[76]

Investigative journalist Robert Kuttner analyzed the work of public-health scholars Jeffrey Johnson and Ellen Hall about modern conditions of work, and concludes that "to be in a life situation where one experiences relentless demands by others, over which one has relatively little control, is to be at risk of poor health, physically as well as mentally." Under wage labor, "a relatively small elite demands and gets empowerment, self-actualization, autonomy, and other work satisfaction that partially compensate for long hours" while "epidemiological data confirm that lower-paid, lower-status workers are more likely to experience the most clinically damaging forms of stress, in part because they have less control over their work."[74]

Due to this lack of control, the exploited worker, according to Marx, "puts his life into the object... [and thus] the greater his activity...the less he possesses...[H]is labour becomes an object...[and] the life which he has given to the object sets itself against him as an alien and hostile force"[72] And since the worker could be working for wages or saving money instead of enjoying life or having fun, (which in a capitalist society often costs money), "all passions and all activity is submerged in avarice...[and] the less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life."[73]

Erich Fromm argued that if a person perceives himself as being what he owns, then when that person loses (or even thinks of losing) what he "owns" (e.g. the good looks or sharp mind that allow him to sell his labor for high wages), then, a fear of loss may create anxiety and authoritarian tendencies because that person's sense of identity is threatened. In contrast, when a person's sense of self is based on what he experiences in a state of being (creativity, love, sadness, taste, sight etc.) with a less materialistic regard for what he once had and lost, or may lose, then less authoritarian tendencies prevail. The state of being, in his view, flourishes under a worker-managed workplace and economy, whereas self-ownership entails a materialistic notion of self, created to rationalize the lack of worker control that would allow for a state of being.[71]

Thus job loss entails the loss of this identity.[70]

2) the social role it entails e.g. family bread-winning, friendship forming etc.

1) the particular work role, even if unfulfilling; and

According to research, modern work provides people with a sense of personal and social identity that is tied to

Self-identity problems and stress

According to Noam Chomsky, analysis of the psychological implications of wage slavery goes back to the Enlightenment era. In his 1791 book On the Limits of State Action, classical liberal thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt explained how "whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness" and so when the laborer works under external control, "we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is."[68] Both the Milgram and Stanford experiments have been found useful in the psychological study of wage-based workplace relations.[69]

Opinions on psychological effects

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.[67]

Fascism has been perceived by some notable critics, like Buenaventura Durruti, to be a last resort weapon of the privileged to ensure the maintenance of wage slavery:

Fascism was more hostile against independent trade unions than modern economies in Europe or the United States.[64] Fascist economic policies were widely accepted in the 1920s and 1930s and foreign (especially US) corporate investment in Italy and Germany increased after the fascist take over.[65][66]


Both American and Russian media described the USSR as a communist or socialist society. Thus Soviet state brutality and destruction of workers' councils became identified with socialism and communism. This helped to vilify these political movements and portray capitalist wage labor as the only alternative to the soviet model.[62][63]


  1. the waste of workers' efforts and resources on producing useless luxuries;
  2. the waste of goods so that their price may remain high; and
  3. the waste of all those who sit between the producer and consumer, taking their own shares at each stage without actually contributing to the production of goods, i.e. the middle man.

and secondarily on:

  1. the existence of property not intended for active use,
  2. the concentration of ownership in few hands,
  3. the lack of direct access by workers to the means of production and consumption goods
  4. the perpetuation of a reserve army of unemployed workers.

To Marx and anarchist thinkers like Bakunin and Kropotkin, wage slavery was a class condition in place due to the existence of private property and the state. This class situation rested primarily on:

Red Army troops attack Kronstadt libertarian socialist "wage slavery" critics who had demanded among other things that "handicraft production be authorized provided it does not utilize wage labour."[61]
Pinkerton guards escort strikebreakers in Buchtel, Ohio, 1884

. Roman Catholic Church school of thought within the Distributist as well as the [60],Thomas Paine and Silvio Gesell [9]

The concept of wage slavery could conceivably be traced back to pre-capitalist figures like Gerrard Winstanley from the radical Christian Diggers movement in England, who wrote in his 1649 pamphlet, The New Law of Righteousness, that there "shall be no buying or selling, no fairs nor markets, but the whole earth shall be a common treasury for every man," and "there shall be none Lord over others, but every one shall be a Lord of himself."[56]


The interest of the dealers... in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public… [They] have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public… We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate… It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms.

Adam Smith noted that employers often conspire together to keep wages low:[55]

Some anti-capitalist thinkers claim that the elite maintain wage slavery and a divided working class through their influence over the media and entertainment industry,[52][53] educational institutions, unjust laws, nationalist and corporate propaganda, pressures and incentives to internalize values serviceable to the power structure, state violence, fear of unemployment[54] and a historical legacy of exploitation and profit accumulation/transfer under prior systems, which shaped the development of economic theory:

Treatment in various economic systems

increased centralization of production... declining wages... [an] expanding... labor pool... intensifying competition, and... [t]he loss of competence and independence experienced by skilled labor" meant that "a critique that referred to all [wage] work as slavery and avoided demands for wage concessions in favor of supporting the creation of the producerist republic (by diverting strike funds towards funding... co-operatives, for example) was far less compelling than one that identified the specific conditions of slavery as low wages...[5]

As Hallgrimsdottir and Benoit point out:

The usage of the term "wage slavery" shifted to "wage work" at the end of the 19th century as groups like the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor shifted to a more reformist, trade union ideology instead of worker's self-management. Much of the decline was caused by the rapid increase in manufacturing after the industrial revolution and the subsequent dominance of wage labor as a result. Another factor was immigration and demographic changes that led to ethnic tension between the workers.[5]

Decline in use of term

By the end of the 19th century both the use of the term wage slavery and its meaning declined.

[51] Anthropologist

Defenses of wage labor and chattel slavery in the literature have linked the subjection of man to man with the subjection of man to nature; arguing that hierarchy and a social system's particular relations of production represent human nature and are no more coercive than the reality of life itself. According to this narrative, any well-intentioned attempt to fundamentally change the status quo is naively utopian and will result in more oppressive conditions.[48] Bosses in both of these long-lasting systems argued that their system created a lot of wealth and prosperity. Both did, in some sense create jobs and their investment entailed risk. For example, slave owners might have risked losing money by buying expensive slaves who later became ill or died; or might have used those slaves to make products that didn't sell well on the market. Marginally, both chattel and wage slaves may become bosses; sometimes by working hard. It may be the "rags to riches" story which occasionally occurs in capitalism, or the "slave to master" story that occurred in places like colonial Brazil, where slaves could buy their own freedom and become business owners, self-employed, or slave owners themselves.[49] Social mobility, or the hard work and risk that it may entail, are thus not considered to be a redeeming factor by critics of the concept of wage slavery.[50]

Oh! isn't it a pity, such a pretty girl as I
Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?
Oh! I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave,
For I'm so fond of liberty,
That I cannot be a slave.[47]

According to American [45][46] They expressed their concerns in a protest song during their 1836 strike:

  1. Since the chattel slave is property, his value to an owner is in some ways higher than that of a worker who may quit, be fired or replaced. The chattel slave's owner has made a greater investment in terms of the money he paid for the slave. For this reason, in times of recession, chattel slaves could not be fired like wage laborers. A "wage slave" could also be harmed at no (or less) cost. American chattel slaves in the 19th century had improved their standard of living from the 18th century[26] and, according to historians Fogel and Engerman plantation records show that slaves worked less, were better fed and whipped only occasionally – their material conditions in the 19th century being "better than what was typically available to free urban laborers at the time".[27] This was partially due to slave psychological strategies under an economic system different from capitalist wage slavery. According to Mark Michael Smith of the Economic History Society: "although intrusive and oppressive, paternalism, the way masters employed it, and the methods slaves used to manipulate it, rendered slaveholders' attempts to institute capitalistic work regimens on their plantation ineffective and so allowed slaves to carve out a degree of autonomy."[37] Similarly, various strategies and struggles adopted by wage laborers contributed to the creation of labor unions and welfare institutions, etc. that helped improve standards of living since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Nevertheless, worldwide, work-related injuries and illnesses still kill at least 2.3 million workers per year[38] with "between 184 and 208 million workers suffer[ing] from work-related diseases" and about "270 million" non-lethal injuries of varying severity "caused by preventable factors at the workplace".[39]—a number that may or may not compare favorably with chattel slavery's.
  2. Unlike a chattel slave, a wage laborer can (barring unemployment or lack of job offers) choose between employers, but they usually constitute a minority of owners in the population for which the wage laborer must work, while attempts to implement workers' control on employers' businesses may be met with violence or other unpleasant consequences. The wage laborer's starkest choice is to work for an employer or face poverty or starvation. If a chattel slave refuses to work, a number of punishments are also available; from beatings to food deprivation – although economically rational slave owners practiced positive reinforcement to achieve best results and before losing their investment (or even friendship) by killing an expensive slave.[40][41][42]
  3. Historically, the range of occupations and status positions held by chattel slaves has been nearly as broad as that held by free persons, indicating some similarities between chattel slavery and wage slavery as well.[43]
  4. Wage slavery, like chattel slavery, does not stem from some immutable "human nature," but represents a "specific response to material and historical conditions" that "reproduce[s] the inhabitants, the social relations… the ideas… [and] the social form of daily life."[44]
  5. Similarities were blurred by the fact that proponents of wage labor won the American Civil War, in which they competed for legitimacy with defenders of chattel slavery. Both presented an over-positive assessment of their system, while denigrating the opponent.[8][29][30]

Critics of wage work have drawn several similarities between wage work and slavery:

Similarities of wage work with slavery

The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence.

Karl Marx described Capitalist society as infringing on individual autonomy, by basing it on a materialistic and commodified concept of the body and its liberty (i.e. as something that is sold, rented or alienated in a class society). According to Friedrich Engels:[35][36]


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